Lawyers

Nathan and I have recently hired a lawyer for our business.  Personally, I'm kind-of impressed with myself for having gone through the process and come out the other side successful.  I've never met with a lawyer in my life, much less hired one.  I wanted to share my experience with you to help you as you interview and hire lawyers for your small (or large) business.

Nathan and I have recently hired a lawyer for our business.  

Personally, I'm kind-of impressed with myself for having gone through the process and come out the other side successful.  I've never met with a lawyer in my life, much less hired one.  I wanted to share my experience with you to help you as you interview and hire lawyers for your small (or large) business.  

One note first, I'm not sure how you feel about lawyers, but the picture below does NOT describe how I felt meeting ANY of the lawyers I talked to.  So cast any and all stereotypes and media-influenced thinking aside – you're about to form a GREAT relationship!

I got the advice that a lawyer is one of the three most important people Nathan and I need to have in our business (also a good CPA and Insurance Agent).  I got this advice several times from people I respected, so I decided to follow it.  I'll be honest though, when I started out, I had no idea what a lawyer did for a business besides defend it in court (shows how much I knew…).

From my interviews with several lawyers, here is what I learned about why a lawyer is an important part of a small business.  They help with…

  1. Incorporating – It can be tempting not to include a lawyer in this process, especially when it only costs ~$100 to do it yourself verses several hundreds of dollars for a lawyer to do it (it will cost us $600, for example).  But if you incorporate yourself, the generic business documents of the state you are incorporating in will be applied to your business.  If you ever get in legal trouble, those business documents matter big time and could wind up costing you much more than the amount you "saved" at the beginning by avoiding hiring a lawyer.  It is important to make sure the content of those documents are truly the best for you and your business, and a lawyer will help you write them so they are. 
  2. Website – A lawyer can write the "Terms of Use" that appear at the bottom of most websites.  These "Terms of Use" help to protect you in case someone misuses your site or wants to take you to court because of your website.
  3. Contracts – Lawyers can look over all types of contractual documents for you, sift through the legal jargon, and help to protect you when you are entering agreements with manufacturers, vendors, outside services, etc.  It gives me significant peace of mind to know that I'll have a lawyer looking contracts over with me and I don't have to learn to do it all on my own.  A lawyer can also WRITE contracts for you, which is helpful as well.
  4. Employees – If/When you hire employees, a lawyer can help you make sure you're not leaving out any important legal steps in the hiring process.  (And from what I can tell, there's a lot of "legal stuff" involved.)
  5. Disclaimers – A lawyer can help write disclaimers on your product(s) that protect you from lawsuits and protect your customers from any unintended negative consequences of using your product.  Again, if you try and write this yourself, you could be leaving loopholes or gaps, but a lawyer can make sure everything is buttoned up.
  6. Litigation – And of course, a lawyer is an enormous asset when settling legal disputes inside or outside of court.

Even though lawyers can be expensive, having professional help dealing with the important legal and financial parts of our business gives me a lot of peace of mind because I know our business is protected from the potentially costlier mistakes we could have made trying to do things on our own.  So, instead of thinking of lawyers like sharks, a little education has made me think of lawyers more like Captain America with his big shield defending me and deflecting away the bad things that may try to come my way.  Horray!

So how do you choose a lawyer?  When you are interviewing lawyers, there are a few key things to keep in mind.  First of all, remember that lawyers are people too.  They want to make a positive impression and have the meeting go well just as much as you do – no need to be intimidated.  

Secondly, pay attention to their level of customer service.  Make sure they take time to explain concepts to you, help you understand them, return correspondence promptly, show up for meetings on time, etc.  And third, in addition to the simple customer service test that ALL of your business contacts should pass, here are some good questions to ask a lawyer when you sit down to meet with them:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about your firm.
  • Are you willing to work with my CPA and insurance agent to help make decisions for my business and provide me with collective counsel?  (The answer to this should be "yes".)
  • Do you have experience working with small businesses?  What percentage of your clients are small business clients?
  • Can you help me get my product patented/trademarked/copyrighted?
  • Walk me through the process of incorporating.  What is involved?  How long will it take?
  • Explain to me why having a lawyer is important for a small business. (Hopefully they'll say the things I mentioned above.)
  • What is your fee for incorporating us?
  • What is your fee for general services?
  • Can you give me some references (good relationships and ones that didn’t work out)?

These questions helped me tremendously to have productive interview sessions with lawyers and to ultimately decide which one Nathan and I wanted to work with.  I hope these questions will provide guidance to you as well.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions or if you have any other information that would be useful to pass on to readers.  Thanks!


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